One of the wonderfully weird sights at this year's South By Southwest festival was a presentation by Nobumichi Tosa, a performance artist who came to Austin from a surreal workshop in Tokyo. Tosa is the charismatic leader of Maywa Denki, a performance arts collective Tosa and his elder brother spun off their father's old vacuum tube-manufacturing company, and which now makes "nonsense machines" instead.
Since his brother's departure from the group (the 35-year-old Masamachi reportedly left for reasons of growing "a little cranky"), Tosa has led the company's charge like a real-life Willy Wonka. He hawks Maywa Denki's whimsical inventions to crowds via stylized "product demonstrations" that play out like a parody of Apple's iconic ones. In keeping with the theme, Tosa and his co-artists wear blue jumpsuits specially designed by Agnes B to recall the kinds of workers' uniforms worn during Japan's high-growth period of the 50s and 60s, and often start the show with a power point presentation on the company's history.
Maywa Denki's "products" tend to be pretty noisy: in Austin, Tosa demonstrated two different sizes of the company's signature invention, the "otomatone," (available on Amazon and as an iPhone app), a musical note-shaped instrument that issues sound from its cartoonishly mouth-like end. There was also a lo-fi instant vibrato contraption made by strapping a hand massager to one's chest, and an automated backing band hacked from a suitcase, none of which work too well, according to Tosa. For his final act, Tosa led the audience in an otomatone competition that involved exactly one Hendrix cover and one dedication to "all the females in the room." The silliness of it scored big with the SXSW audience, aided by Tosa's winky sense of humor.
We've condensed the entire hour into a 4 minute highlight reel below, plus a HuffPost interview with Tosa and one of his assistants below that. For good measure, we've posted one of Tosa's standalone Otamatone demos at the very bottom (no subtitles, but self-explanatory). In no time, you will certainly feel as YouTube user Cosmofobica did re: the otamatone: "It is useless but I want it."
WATCH an interview with Nobumichi Tosa:
Video by Allie Compton
WATCH an Otamatone demonstration: